If you’ve had that sinking feeling as clumps of hair slide unceremoniously down the shower drain, you’re not alone. By 50, around 40 per cent of women will show signs of hair loss. Christchurch experts, hairdresser Janine Gräter and trichologist Dr Padmaja Redekar, attest to the growing frequency of alopecia (the medical name for hair loss) and its causes.
In the last decade, salon owner Janine Gräter has seen a dramatic rise in the number of females experiencing hair loss, about half of whom are under 30. Yet, common conditions such as alopecia areata and female-pattern baldness (or thinning) still remain “taboo subjects” in New Zealand, she says.
Dr Padmaja Redekar recalls her surprise when, upon emigrating from India and hoping to work under a local trichologist (hair and scalp specialist), she found there wasn’t one. Having set up her own clinic, she’s currently one of two New Zealand professionals registered with the International Association of Trichologists. Four years later, she’s still amazed at how little awareness Kiwis have of female hair loss.
“Many women are in denial, or find the idea of facing up to it daunting. Shame and low self-esteem are a big part of it,” Padmaja says. “Hair loss is not just about hair, it’s all about emotion.”
Be it a temporary or permanent condition, hair specialists like Janine and Padmaja can help to stop further progression, stimulate regrowth and conceal hair loss. They also understand – as they’ve both experienced it for themselves.
Janine’s frank, authoritative manner is reassuring. It’s born from over three decades’ hairdressing experience, and knowing what it feels like to see a different person in the mirror. You quickly get the sense that her knowledge and passion are of huge benefit to hair-loss clients visiting Black Hairdressing in The Colombo.
Many years ago, unbeknown to colleagues, the young hairdresser worked at New Zealand Fashion Week while wearing a wig. “No one knew. Because I was a hairdresser, people thought my attempts to hide it were just me being cool.”
Janine’s alopecia was triggered by cosmetic surgery (surgery of any kind can put stress on the body). “It’s gotten better over time and at one point I was in remission, but I now know I’ll always have to deal with the hair loss coming back.”
Poor hair doesn’t just happen, says Janine. She observes that unless it’s genetic, the underlying factor is usually poor health. Her gluten allergy, anaemia and fibroids are contributing aspects too. “I had to adjust my diet to manage my symptoms and after that, my hair did change. I still take B vitamins and iron.”
When the hair loss came back a few years ago, Janine made a choice. “I had an opportunity to show everybody what I was going through. I wanted to help women by showing how hair pieces can help.”
After 20 years working with hair extensions, Janine could see the issues clients were experiencing so started designing her own products. “I’m a doer; I knew I had to take action to change it.” Her research led to simple innovations, such as decreasing the number of extensions, switching from methyl to silicone material for comfort, and providing more hair than less to cover the bare bits. Manufactured in China or the US, the pieces are made from real hair and trialled first.
Black Hairdressing also sells wigs and toppers (an alternative hair clip, cap or small wig to be worn on top of the head). Janine says the technology is so advanced now that wearers can shower, exercise and be intimate without fear of the piece falling off.
The initial assessment is a chance to answer client questions and discuss different looks to achieve as natural a result as possible. Depending on what the hair will support, products can be tried on. If opting for extensions, they take 1.5–2 hours to apply.
“I know how long it takes to be ready to wear hair, so we’re a place for people to land when they realise they’ve got options. I commit to staying with each person on their journey, as it can be an emotional rollercoaster,” Janine says.
When Nici Clark noticed a gap in the front of her hair parting, she put it down to a “bad head of foils”. It wasn’t long after she’d given birth to her son and she figured the post-partum hair loss would grow back. But it didn’t. For a while she just put her hair up so that it blended in. About five years ago, when Nici’s hair got even thinner at the front, she started looking at options.
“I tried some Nioxin products, traditional ‘remedies’, a female version of Rogaine – I even rubbed coffee into my head, on a friend’s advice,” she chuckles. “But about a year ago I decided I had to address the issue head-on.”
The doctor diagnosed alopecia areata, a genetic autoimmune disorder that can be triggered by a variety of factors. Nici recalls her periods stopping around two years ago in what she thought was peri-menopause (she’s in her mid-forties), but later discovered was ovarian cancer. Surgery to remove the ovaries saved her life, but at around the same time Nici lost her job and her mum became very unwell. Stress and hormonal changes are well-known triggers for hair loss.
In time, Nici started studying for a counselling qualification, and she spoke with her hairdresser, Janine Gräter, about options. They decided to try a topper to cover the patch at the front of her head where there was nothing to clip onto.
Armed with a medical certificate (as the doctor could find no hair follicles) Nici, with Janine’s help, was able to apply for the wigs and hairpieces subsidy available from the Ministry of Health. It assists those who suffer from serious hair loss due to a medical condition or certain cancer therapies. The reduced cost helped, and Nici now has three hairpieces, covering day and night looks.
“I have curly hair, so Janine perms the piece for me. I love my topper – it’s thick and blends in. It has a fringe in it – I’ve never had a fringe before! It’s good as you can’t see the edges, even when it’s windy.
“Janine cuts the hair, colours it, tones it – she matches it perfectly to your hair. My partner says they’re natural and pretty, which is huge. I’m so much more confident wearing one. I see so many women living with hair loss but it’s still a taboo subject. I want people to know they have a choice. You can’t live your best life if you’re not embracing yourself.”
Like many new mums, Padmaja Redekar experienced postpartum hair fall. “Hair shedding every day was very daunting and it felt like I was losing confidence slowly. It took me a while to gain control over my hair again.”
As a trichologist, Dr Padmaja is energised to meet the hair and scalp problems women face. Proceedings at her Hairmantra clinic start with a consultation, where she takes note of a client’s family history, diet, menstrual cycle and health background.
“By the time they come to me, generally 50 per cent of the damage is done. Scarring can be quite bad by that stage,” she explains.
Low-level laser therapy penetrates the scalp to work at the hair follicle level. This is one of the main treatments Padmaja offers, with encouraging results. “Hair grows at about half an inch a month. When I see reduced swelling and new shoots of hair after a few months it puts a smile on both our faces – it’s an amazing feeling.”
Lindy Cai, a university student in her early twenties, experienced female-pattern thinning while still at high school. “It was very bad… I would always get huge clumps of hair landing on my clothes.”
Lacking in belief after several failed attempts to find help, Lindy’s laser treatment sessions with Padmaja “helped with my confidence and gave me useful advice for my thinning hair”.
She started to see results after two months, and new hair had emerged within six months. “The empty gaps were becoming less visible and I could feel it was thicker than before.”
Lindy encourages others to take note of their health and lifestyle. “I used to suffer from stress and sleep deprivation; I knew I wasn’t in good health, but I ignored it.”
Depending on the diagnosis, Padmaja also offers chemical-free and anti-DHT treatments, supplements and concealing nano fibres to temporarily cover gaps and provide a fuller look.
Post-Covid, the trichologist noticed a spike in enquiries and credits that to the stress many people were under. “Balanced emotions help keep hair balanced,” she says.
Padmaja hopes that women will talk about this issue more, and come forward earlier. Janine agrees: “If we can just drop some of the shame around the issue of women’s hair loss, we can get to the solution quicker. You don’t have to suffer in pain – you can have hair.”